Random Thoughts On Pocono

Posted in IndyCar on August 20, 2018 by Oilpressure

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The ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway was an exhausting experience for everyone. By the time the NBCSN telecast signed off, I felt physically and mentally drained. I can only imagine what it was like for those that were on site.

I am sure I’m not the only one to say that when I saw the crash on Lap 7, I feared the worst for Robert Wickens. Fortunately, the safety cell was not compromised and we learned that he was awake and alert as he was air-lifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest in Allentown with what is being termed as orthopedic injuries. Please keep Robert Wickens and his friends and family in your thoughts as he hopefully recovers.

After a disjointed start that saw Graham Rahal climb into the back of Spencer Pigot’s car before they took the green flag, the rest of the field finally took the green flag for the first time at the beginning of Lap 7. They got just a little more than halfway through the first lap when Wickens and Ryan Hunter-Reay made slight contact in Turn Two. It was slight, but it was enough to send Hunter-Reay into the wall and launching Wickens over the car of Hunter-Reay, over the SAFER barrier and into the catch fence. Once into the fencing, the car and fence were both ripped apart and what was left of the pirouetting car of Wickens was violently hurled back onto the track.

The crash was reminiscent of Kenny Bräck at Texas in 2003, Davey Hamilton at Texas in 2001 and Mikhail Aleshin at Fontana in 2014. It should be noted each of those drivers lived to race again in IndyCar, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that Wickens is able to resume his IndyCar career soon.

Last night, Paul Tracy tweeted that Wickens had suffered two broken ankles, a fractured arm and a possible fractured vertebrae as he awaited surgery. Despite a possible HIPAA violation, this was about the only halfway reliable information out there last night. Some took offense that Tracy put the information out there, but fans were concerned. If Tracy’s information turned out to be incorrect, then shame on him. About an hour after Tracy’s tweet; his information was confirmed in a press release from IndyCar, which also mentioned a pulmonary contusion and a possible injury to his spine.

It took almost two hours to make some makeshift repairs to the fencing just beyond Turn Two. But soon after drivers and fans were notified that Wickens was awake and alert, the engines were re-fired after the long delay. After four laps of yellow, the race finally restarted on Lap 11 with Alexander Rossi in the lead after jumping ahead of the front row of Will Power and Josef Newgarden during the half-lap of green on Lap 7.

From Lap 11 until about Lap 90, the race was a bit of a snoozer – thanks mostly to Alexander Rossi’s dominance. But after what we had all seen in the first seven laps, I didn’t really mind being a bit bored. It was good to catch my breath and let the adrenaline subside.

Rossi’s main rival throughout the day was Will Power. At one point, in the first half of the race, Rossi held a twelve-second lead over second-place Power. But as Rossi kept catching soon-to-be lapped traffic, Power started picking away at that lead. By about the halfway point of the race, it was down to about three seconds. What had been a snoozer was suddenly becoming interesting.

Ironically and thankfully, there were no caution periods after the Wickens crash. That allowed Rossi to pad his lead only to lose the bulk of it due to lapped traffic. There were pit stop shuffles, but Rossi always resumed his big lead once everyone pitted. Then on Lap 169, Power passed Rossi and seemed to be pulling away. You wondered if we were going to see a repeat of Belle Isle, when Rossi dominated the day only to throw it away in ugly fashion at the end. That wondering didn’t last too long. Power had a bad exit in Turn One, and allowed Rossi to pass him as they were going into Turn Two on Lap 172. The race was effectively over at that point.

Power made another run with about ten laps to go, but got no closer than about three and a half seconds. The final margin of victory for Rossi was 4.4982 seconds over Will Power.

Scott Dixon had another minor miracle. After starting thirteenth and narrowly avoiding the spinning car of Wickens, Dixon did what Dixon does. He drove a smart but unspectacular race and finished third. Sébastien Bourdais finished fourth and was the last car on the lead lap. But at the end, Rossi was just behind Bourdais, in position to lap him. That’s how dominating Rossi was.

Once I was able to temporarily put the anxiety of the Wickens crash behind me and focus on the race I was watching, that’s when it got good. There were only fourteen cars running at the end and only four on the lead lap, but I thought it was a good clean race – once the race resumed.

But the Lap 7 crash reminds us all what a dangerous sport we follow. Yes, it is much, much safer than it was twenty or thirty years ago – and it has advanced incredibly from when I first started following this sport in the mid-sixties, when it was common to lose six or seven drivers in a season. But we should never allow ourselves to get too complacent and think that these drivers will automatically walk away from crashes – no matter how bad they look. Yesterday was a reminder to us all that this sport is not for the faint of heart – and that includes fans also.

TV Coverage: I thought that given the circumstances, NBCSN did a phenomenal job with their marathon telecast yesterday. They were on the air for almost six hours and did a good job during the delay. Given the potential magnitude of the situation I felt like they did a nice job in striking a balance of being serious and somber, while still keeping things slightly lighthearted. That is a difficult task, but I thought they were able to pull it off.

As I was checking social media for any scrap of information I could find, I saw several people complaining that NBC should not have shown replays of the accident before it was confirmed that Wickens was awake and alert. They said it was in poor taste and morbid to show replays of the crash before we knew if Wickens had survived it or not.

I disagree. We are not all ghouls that get some morbid thrill out of watching potentially fatal crashes. Some of us simply want to know what happened. We all saw it live and we know it was bad. To never show a replay is almost like pretending it didn’t happen. It happened.

By seeing the crash replayed over and over in slow-motion and at different angles, I got no perverse thrill. It actually made me feel better. I was able to see that the head and neck area did not strike the fence, nor was the tub breeched. That didn’t guarantee to me that Wickens had actually survived, but it told me that his chances of survival were better than what I had originally thought.

Many of you probably disagree, but I thought NBC served its viewers well by showing the crash without making us wait for a couple of hours.

There were other highlights of NBC’s weekend. I thought their experiment of putting Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy in the pits for the Saturday qualifying show was great. It allowed them to interact with the drivers using driver lingo. Meanwhile, Jon Beekhuis was in the booth (where he belongs, in my opinion) along with Robin Miller. Katie Hargitt and Kevin Lee were given Saturday off and the camera showed them sitting in the stands with the fans. Overall, I thought it gave us a nice change-up.

Robin Miller had another one of his excellent essays, this time on Alexander Rossi and how he has acclimated himself to IndyCar after cutting his teeth in Europe – which proved to be timely since he ended up dominating his second race in a row.

Another bonus was the presence of Tony Kanaan in the booth, after Kanaan had gone out on Lap 17. Not only was Kanaan funny, but he brought the perspective of a current driver who had been competing in the race just a few minutes before. I didn’t time it, but I’ll bet Kanaan spent an hour and a half in the booth. Whenever TK decides to hang up his helmet, I think I know what he can do for a second career.

Michael Andretti’s Interview: During the red-flag delay, fans on social media were roasting Michael Andretti for what they thought was a callous and insensitive interview. Katie Hargitt asked Michael Andretti on the condition of his driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was involved in the crash. Michael said he was fine and then proceeded to lay blame on Wickens for the accident. Many felt that Andretti was out of line and that was not the time to be assigning blame.

I have no real allegiance to Michael Andretti, and I have no real reason to defend or attack him. On one hand, he comes by the blame game naturally. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Michael admit a mistake on the track as a driver or as an owner. On the other hand, Michael is almost as old as I am and he’s seen a lot of these accidents first-hand. As a child, he was going to a lot of races at a time when drivers were frequently severely injured or worse. It was commonplace. As a driver’s son, as a driver himself and as an owner, Michael Andretti has witnessed it all. You almost have to harden yourself to these situations in order to get through them.

I’ve been accused of being insensitive when dealing with driver fatalities in the past, but those making the accusation were more than a generation younger than me. They weren’t around when death was more common in this sport. I am also at the age when friends and colleagues my own age are starting to die off from natural causes. I hope I never get used to it, but it no longer surprises me when I lose someone close to me like it did when I was in my twenties. Time (and old age) teaches you to accept it easier. We all have different perspectives when it comes to mortality.

Michael Andretti certainly could have worded things differently, but I’m willing to give him a pass on this. I’m willing to bet that when he goes back and watches the interview, he’ll realize how bad it sounded. I’ll also be willing to bet that when grizzled racing veterans talk among each other, their approach to death would probably shock most people. Today’s drivers just know how to flip a switch and present a more sensitive persona to the public. Michael Andretti just forgot to flip that switch.

No Track Time: I’ve said before that I am not crazy about the two-day format for ovals. Not only does it short-change fans and not give them much reason to make a weekend trip out of it, but it cuts down on practice time. This weekend, drivers got a one-hour practice in the morning, then two laps of qualifying. The late afternoon practice session was rained out and not re-scheduled.

Since the death of Paul Dana during a race-morning warm-up at Homestead in 2006, IndyCar has done away with race-morning warm-ups on ovals. It’s not as if that’s the only time that the fatal accident would have occurred. Not to be insensitive, but I thought at the time that it was a knee-jerk reaction to a fatality by IndyCar.

The new super-speedway front-wing configurations that were introduced for Pocono were brand-new to most teams, I would have thought IndyCar might have held a practice session on Sunday morning, even though they may have been dodging raindrops. One hour of practice with new aero pieces just sounds a little inadequate to me, but then again – I’m just a fan. I’m sure that the powers-that-be know what they were doing when they made that call.

Repair Job: Once the fencing was hastily repaired, drivers headed to their cars. However, driver Sébastien Bourdais was dissatisfied with the repair job. He felt it was makeshift and basically unsafe. At first he refused to race, but quickly abandoned that stance when all other drivers climbed into their respective cockpits.

At the time, I thought he was being silly. But then I got to thinking how horrible it would be if a driver suffered career ending injuries (or worse) if another car went into the makeshift fence in the exact same spot. When Conor Daly slapped the wall late in the race at that spot, I have to admit it made me more than a little nervous. Fortunately, those fears of Bourdais never came to pass – but it gave everyone something more to think about after the frightening events of yesterday.

Crazy Start: Before the field reached the green flag, the caution was flying as Graham Rahal ran up the rear-end of Spencer Pigot’s car as the field was coming out of Turn Three. During the red-flag delay, Scott Dixon accused pole-sitter Will Power of manipulating the start and slowing down dramatically, thereby causing the wreck near the back of the field.

Will Power produced data to show that he was consistently doing 107 mph without wavering as they approached the starting line. Then there was a spike in the graph as they crossed the line during the aborted start. Video evidence also supported Power’s argument. After the race, Dixon said he owed Power an apology for calling him out.

Long Caution: During the wild start, Spencer Pigot’s car backed into the inside retaining wall and sustained damage. I saw no debris from Pigot’s car however, and Rahal continued on – albeit with a broken front wing.

My question is…with little or no debris from the contact, why were there six laps of caution, with cars circulating a two and a half mile track at a slow pace? Just what were they doing that required six laps of caution?

Social Media Conundrum: As I mentioned earlier, I spent a lot of the red-flag delay scouring social media to find out any information. There was a mixed bag of good and bad. The good was that most of the information that was leaking out was correct. About ten minutes after I would see something on Twitter, it would be reported by NBCSN.

The bad was not wrong information. In fact, I can’t really think of any information I saw that wasn’t true. No, the bad was the group of self-righteous people that had to show how much better they were, by admonishing NBC for showing the replays and demanding that no one post a replay on social media. They also would scold anyone for even speculating on what might have happened. And of course, they took Michael Andretti to task for being insensitive.

My suggestion to the self-appointed social media police is to stay off of social media during these times, if everyone’s concern for the crash victim upsets them. As I said earlier – we don’t get a thrill out of seeing a grisly replay. We are just looking for any shred of information we can get. We should be able to throw out questions without being publicly reprimanded by those that like to show they are above it all and that they are so much more respectful than you are.

Sure there are a few trolls that act inappropriately on social media during somber times like yesterday. But the vast majority of us are already upset by what we just witnessed and would like some answers. The last thing we need is some do-gooder scolding us just because we don’t respond to stress the way they think we should. End of rant.

Living Right: Not that I’m pulling against Scott Dixon in the championship fight, but what does it take for him to have a bad race? I don’t really care who wins the championship. I just want it to be close going into the final race. That’s why I thought that with Dixon starting thirteenth, this race had the potential to really tighten things up. Dixon finished third.

Heading into Mid-Ohio, Dixon had a sixty-two point lead in the championship. Rossi won and cut that lead down to forty-four – an eighteen point deficit whittled away. Rossi won again yesterday and only made up fifteen points on Dixon. Rossi still trails Dixon by twenty-nine points with three races to go.

The championship is now closer, but you would think that by winning two races in a row that Rossi would have closed that deficit by more than thirty-three points.

All in All: Yesterday was a stressful day to be an IndyCar fan. It reminded us how dangerous this sport is and how quickly things can go very wrong.

But it also demonstrated how fans react to stressful situations in different ways. While Robert Wickens was being loaded onto a backboard and being airlifted to a hospital, fans were already arguing back and forth about insensitive interviews, showing replays, releasing information and what and what not to say on social media.

Lost in all of this was that despite the first few laps, we witnessed a beatdown for the second race in a row by Alexander Rossi. We have also seen Scott Dixon’s championship lead cut by more than half in the last two races.

This makes this weekend’s race at Gateway that much more important for Dixon, Rossi, Josef Newgarden and even Will Power, who is eighty-one points behind Dixon.

But I’ll close by saying that no matter who posted what on social media yesterday, or what was seen or heard on NBCSN; we all have one common goal – and that is to see Robert Wickens get back into an IndyCar cockpit sooner than later. Please keep him in your prayers.

George Phillips

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Pocono Preview

Posted in IndyCar on August 17, 2018 by Oilpressure

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Before I talk about this weekend’s race at Pocono, I’d like to express my condolences to the Unser family. Shelley Unser, former wife of Al Unser, Jr., passed away unexpectedly yesterday. With her work with CARA in the nineties, and her relentless work in starting the Cody’s First Step Foundation when their daughter, Cody, was stricken with transverse myelitis at the age of twelve – Shelley Unser touched many lives. She will be missed.

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The Life Of An IndyCar Fan In The UK

Posted in IndyCar on August 15, 2018 by Oilpressure

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By Matthew Lawrenson

Note from George – First of all…yes, that’s a picture of a lizard.

A few weeks ago I was approached by a longtime reader named Matthew Lawrenson, who lives in his native United Kingdom. He rarely comments on this site, but frequently comments to me on Twitter (@seethelizards) regarding this site and anything that has to do with IndyCar racing. His offer to me a few weeks back was to write a guest-post about a unique topic regarding what it’s like being an IndyCar fan on the other side of the pond. I’m still amazed (and honored) that there is a fairly significant number of international readers that come to this site on a regular basis.

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Bumping Up Against The IndyCar Rule Book

Posted in IndyCar on August 13, 2018 by Oilpressure

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When Alexander Rossi played some shenanigans with the start of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio a couple of weeks ago, many fans and a few drivers thought it was a dirty move. As the pole-sitter, Rossi had control of the field as they approached the starting line. By slowing down significantly and making everyone behind him slow down just as he took off, many felt that Race Control should have penalized him.

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How We Spend Our Non-Racing Weekends

Posted in IndyCar on August 10, 2018 by Oilpressure

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By Susan Phillips

For the second weekend in a row, there will be no IndyCar race this weekend. For those of us that live in households where the weekend schedule is based on the IndyCar schedule, that can bring some welcomed relief. To some, it may mean a trip to the beach. For others, it’s a chance to relax and catch a movie or some other activity away from the house and the television. That’s the way it has been in my household in past years–but not this summer.

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Avoiding The SportsCenter Mentality

Posted in IndyCar on August 8, 2018 by Oilpressure

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The other day, I was perusing through Robin Miller’s Mailbag on Racer.com and came across what I considered to be a very astute observation. It was only one short sentence that sounded so simple, but it spoke volumes about some of the unrealistic expectations that some of today’s fans have when watching a race.

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Are Team Associations A Good Thing?

Posted in IndyCar on August 6, 2018 by Oilpressure

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Before you read this, please understand that I really know nothing about the topic I am about to discuss. I am probably about as qualified to write about brain surgery or splitting the atom as I am to discuss team associations and satellite operations. So if I make you shake your head in disgust as you read this…you’ve been warned.

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